Beltran to the Mets?

According to the Associated Press and various other sources, Carlos Beltran is close to signing a deal with the New York Mets. Reportedly, the deal is for $119 million over seven years, or $17 million a year.

Beltran was the cream of this season’s free agent crop. He’s in his prime, he’s got all the tools, he’s represented by Scott Boras. And, against all odds, the Mets will apparently sign him.

I say against all odds because the Mets don’t typically do things this way. For one thing, cutting a deal with Scott Boras is a 180-degree turnaround for the team that ran away and hid from Alex Rodriquez four years ago. For another, Beltran is actually a young player, unarguably in his prime. The Mets thought Tom Glavine was in his prime when they signed him at the age of 36 two years ago.

And, most notably, this is the biggest money deal of the offseason. The Mets don’t do the biggest money deals; I believe the last time they made the biggest deal of the offseason was 1991, when they signed Bobby Bonilla to a five-year contract worth $29 million. Bonilla actually wasn’t terrible during his time at Shea, but he became the object of the Shea faithful’s scorn because he wasn’t as good as advertised. The abuse got so bad that he even started wearing earplugs in the outfield. Eventually, the Mets had to trade him to the Oroles for prospects.

Several years later, like something from the theater of the absurd, the Mets actually brought Bonilla back to town when they traded Mel Rojas (another infamous Met) for him. That stint went so poorly that the Mets actually bought him out of the final year of his contract, and they’re now on the hook to pay him $1 million a year from 2011 through the year 2035. That’s how long the Mets live with their mistakes.

The net result is that the Mets have become gunshy in recent years; afraid to cut the big deal despite playing in the largest baseball market there is. All those who bemoan the big bucks the Mets are paying Beltran (and these are big bucks — more on that in a moment) are really missing the point. The Mets needed a metamorphosis; they needed to break out of their cocoon and become a free-spending butterfly. To hoard your money like Scrooge McDuck is to cede New York to the Yankees.

Signing Pedro Martinez was a step in the right direction, but it also felt like an act of desperation. It felt like another Glavine deal, paying primetime money to someone in his declining years. I can’t help feeling that the Mets will regret those third and fourth years of Pedro’s contract. I hope I’m wrong.

Beltran is different. Sure, they probably overpaid, but they overpaid for the right guy. To give you a sense of why I think so, let me talk about a comparable player: Roberto Alomar. In his first six major league seasons, Alomar created 152 Win Shares; Beltran has created 166 in his first six. Now, Beltran is two years older than Alomar was after his first six years, but the two players are similar in many ways.

In the 1990 Baseball Book, Bill James talked about Alomar. I’m going to paraphrase what he said:

This is my number one tip for this guide: GET ROBERTO ALOMAR. No matter who you are — rotisserie, card collector, whatever; get Alomar.

There are four reasons I say that. Number one, the quality of his play…. Number two, the diversity of his skills…. Number three, his youth…. Number four, he’s a switch hitter….

James then went on to say that Alomar is probably agile enough around the bag, and he had received enough good coaching from his dad, to avoid serious injury.

See, all these things pertain to Beltran, too. The sheer diversity of his skills, which Aaron covered thoroughly during the season, are the reasons to like him so much. He can hurt you with speed, power, average, and fielding. And he has a track record of remaining healthy. What’s more, as his speed skills decline over the next seven years, his power skills and batting eye will likely improve. If there is a player who can be expected to age well, Beltran may well be one.

Of course, the name of Roberto Alomar is enough to send any Mets’ fan into uncontrollable bobble-headed spasms. Alomar was the big name that the Mets acquired in 2001, after he had batted .336/.415/.541 with 37 Win Shares for the Cleveland Indians. He promptly went on to bat .266/.331/.376 with the Mets (16 Win Shares) to join the ranks of the scorned, along with Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman and several others who “couldn’t handle the pressure cooker of New York.”

OK, so is Beltran worth $17 mililon a year? Over the last four years, Beltran has racked up 27, 22, 28 and 31 Win Shares. I see no reason why he can’t deliver 25 to 30 Win Shares over the next four to five years. Based on his Fair Market Value, he is worth $17 million a year if he can average 29 Win Shares a year. It’s a stretch, but it’s not unreasonable.

Those sixth and seventh years are another matter. Beltran will be 34 years old in the seventh year of this contract, the same age as Alomar when the Mets acquired him from the Indians. On the other hand, Jim Edmonds was 34 this past year. And he was pretty good. Still, seven years is a big risk. If you’re upset about anything with this contract, get upset about the length, not the money.

Let’s be clear about a number of things here.

  • Beltran’s stats will suffer in Shea. He may come to hate the place, much like Alomar did.
  • New York is, indeed, a pressure cooker. And the pressure will be on Beltran to cook. Of course, he responded to playoff pressure pretty well this past October. Let’s hope he can continue to deliver.
  • Beltran is a good centerfielder, but Cameron is better. Assuming the Mets move Cameron to right (something he volunteered to do before the Mets even began pursuing Beltran), this will be just like the ARod/Jeter position switch. Both teams will have moved the better fielder from a key position, but the Mets will do it to accomodate the new guy; the Yankees did it to accomodate the reigning superstar.

So, if news reports are correct, Carlos Beltran will be a Met for the next seven years. Keith Hernandez was a Met for seven years. So were Dave Magadan, David Cone, Jon Matlack, Mike Jorgenson, Kevin Elster and Duffy Dyer. Welcome to the club, Carlos. You’re joining some exclusive company.

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